​Expert Reviews – Zimbabwe

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Expert
Paul Murray   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Paul is a travel writer, author of the Bradt guidebook to Zimbabwe and is closely involved in promoting tourism to Zimbabwe.

9 people found this review helpful.

A Brilliant Past and an Outstanding Future
Overall rating
4/5

Yes, Zimbabwe is still beset with political and economic difficulties but none of this affects visitors much, especially those who book their stay with travel agencies and prepay most of the trip. Despite everything, Zimbabwe remains many people’s favorite country in the region, with great wildlife viewing, wonderfully friendly and welcoming people, fascinating cultures and stunningly photogenic scenery and geological features.

Zimbabwe has a number of national parks and each is excellent in its own way, although not all of them offer the ‘full-on’ game-viewing opportunities that many people are looking for on their first safari. True, as with all its regional neighbors, poaching and illegal hunting has become a problem in some parks, but in others, the impact is hardly noticeable with rich and diverse concentrations of wildlife. The Big Five are still present in some of Zim’s parks, and if you take the critically endangered rhino out of the equation, the remaining ‘four’ obligingly present themselves regularly. Other parks with fewer animals on show will blow your mind away in scenic terms. Two of them, Gonarezhou and Chizarira offer an unparalleled wilderness experience such that you can spend a week in them and hardly see any other tourists, while some other national parks simply offer marvelous relaxation breaks. Humans have had no noticeable impact on the magnificent birdlife in all the parks and this attracts serious birders to Zimbabwe in their droves.

So my recommendations for the safari visitor are various. If this is your first trip and you want to ‘tick off’ all the major animals on your checklist, be sure to start with Hwange National Park, which has huge concentrations of game in the dry season. If you’ve been on several previous safari trips and want something different, more than just the Big Five and you especially want to get away from the crowds, Zimbabwe’s parks are for you. Either way, I would definitely recommend booking with a small or specialist safari operator and making sure you are not ‘consolidated’ into a much larger group for your game drives.

And if you don’t want to sit in a bumpy, dusty game drive vehicle for your whole holiday, but want to combine great game viewing with scenic and cultural pursuits – well, you won’t find a better all-round destination than Zimbabwe.

Finally, to optimise your game-viewing opportunities, you should visit in the dry season – wildlife viewing is best throughout the country from June through October.

Expert
Mike Unwin   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times (Lived there 1988–1990)

Mike is an award-winning wildlife writer, former editor of Travel Zambia magazine and author of the Bradt Guide to Southern African Wildlife.

8 people found this review helpful.

Struggling Paradise
Overall rating
4/5

In recent years Zimbabwe has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, with its ongoing political difficulties having reduced a once thriving tourist trade to a mere trickle. This is a tragedy, as the country is a superb safari destination, with a huge variety of landscapes and wildlife. Its largest parks, such as Hwange and Mana Pools, offer a classic lowland safari experience, with large herds of game – especially elephant and buffalo – and abundant predators. A variety of smaller parks, meanwhile, are set in completely different landscapes, from the weird granite moonscape of the Matobo Hills to the lush montane forest of the eastern highlands, and here you will find many more unusual species – including a rich variety of birds. The Zambezi River forms the country’s northern border with Zambia, and flows through the popular tourist attractions of Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba, both excellent wildlife areas in their own right.

I admit that I have a particular affection for Zimbabwe, as I lived in the country during the late 1980s and it provided my introduction to African wildlife. At that time it was an extremely easy and good-value safari destination, with an excellent national park infrastructure developed along similar lines to South Africa’s, and – even as a low-budget, independent traveler – there was little that I didn’t see. The wildlife and parks have since suffered from the inevitable poaching and neglect that comes with hard times. But the landscape is resilient, and the last few years have seen many safari operators increasing their activities. Game populations in key areas remain healthy, but conservation is in dire need of support. The more visitors that return, the more this situation will improve.

Expert
Stuart Butler   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: November

Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including 'Kenya', 'Rwanda' and 'Tanzania'.

7 people found this review helpful.

The Crown Awaits
Overall rating
4/5

For many years I’ve been travelling around different parts of Africa experiencing safaris in many different parks and environments. Throughout all this time whenever talk has turned to safari guides, training or community conservation one word above others kept cropping up, ‘Zimbabwe’, but over the past ten to fifteen years that word has inevitably been followed by a sigh from the speaker. Zimbabwe, so everyone who knew the country said, was once in African safari royalty. It had some of the best parks, finest infrastructure and some incredible wildlife. But not just that the country had also earnt a solid reputation for its guides (particularly the walking guides) who were considered among the best trained and most professional in Africa. Zimbabwe could also be credited with giving birth to the original community conservation movement which is now making in-roads in conservation and tourism in many other parts of Africa. Sadly, though the country is today a shadow of its former self. More than a decade of misrule from Robert Mugabe has stripped the country of much of its safari credentials and left its once ground-breaking community conservation programme in tatters.

Having listened to these kind of tales for what seems like years, in late 2015, I finally got my chance to go to Zimbabwe. I really had very little idea what to expect. What I found though truly left me impressed. My experiences were confined to the far southwest – the legendary Victoria Falls (infinitely more impressive from the Zimbabwean side than the Zambian side where, thanks to a major hydro-electric project, the falls are often just a trickle of bathwater) and huge Hwange National Park. Late November, when I visited, is not considered an ideal time of year to visit southwest Zimbabwe and, thanks to an extended drought in southern Africa, November 2015 was considered even worse than normal. But the truth is I was quickly hooked on the place. Yes, okay, so the famously large elephant herds of Hwangwe were nowhere to be seen but the sense of isolation was superb. Compared to South Africa, Kenya or Tanzania there was literally nobody else here and I frequently spent entire days without seeing a single other tourist vehicle. I also found the villages I visited fascinating. The houses here had a level of love plastered onto them that I don’t think I have ever seen anywhere in eastern Africa. Made of mud they might have been, but they were covered in bright, hand painted murals of animals and landscapes and as often as not had masses of flower pots filled with pink and orange blooms outside the doorways. And again and again, as I walked past these houses I would hear a call of invitation shouted out, “Please, you’re welcome. Come in” and one thing is for sure, despite the bad news that so often comes out of Zimbabwe I certainly would travel half-way across the world to be welcomed there again. For me this was one of the most refreshingly enjoyable places I have visited in many years.

Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

7 people found this review helpful.

Victoria Falls & Beyond
Overall rating
4/5

Zimbabwe is a country of great variety, with lots of highlights packed in a relatively small area. This makes it equally suitable for a guided tour as a self-drive adventure.

The biggest draw is Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I love to head out to the Rainforest Walk at dawn – long before the crowds arrive and when the orange sky reflecting in the spray makes the waterfall picture-perfect. Adrenaline junkies should schedule a few extra days. Activities on offer range from bungee jumping, zip-lining and rafting Grade 4 rapids on the mighty Zambezi River to canoeing on the hippo- and crocodile-infested waters above the falls.

The country is home to iconic wildlife destinations, as well as several low-key wilderness destinations where you might spend days without seeing another tourist. I love Hwange in the dry season for its big concentration of elephants. Matobo National Park is known for its rugged landscapes. The granite domes and balancing rocks give shelter to numerous rock-art sites. Wildlife is thin on the ground here, but the guided rhino tracking activity is a winner. Walking safaris are recommended in all the parks but especially so in Mana Pools. Getting up close to a big tusker on foot is an experience I’ll never forget. One of Zimbabwe’s most underrated destinations is Gonarezhou National Park, a raw wilderness perhaps most appealing to repeat visitors looking for some off-the-beaten-track exploration.

Zimbabwe is also known for its historical sites. Most notably the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, a medieval city built entirely without mortar (dry stone). Less well known, but equally worth a visit are the Khame Ruins outside the bustling city of Bulawayo.

Most of Zimbabwe’s highlights are situated in the Zambezi Valley. For a total change of scene and to get a break from the valley’s heat and humidity, I love to get out to the Eastern Highlands. Here you can enjoy long forest hikes, trout fishing and horse riding. And the area is a birding hot spot as well.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

5 people found this review helpful.

Adrenaline Capital of Southern Africa
Overall rating
4/5

The pivotal tourist attraction in Zimbabwe is the mile-wide Victoria Falls, a not-to-be-missed sight whose scenic magnificence has hit me afresh on each of half a dozen visits – and ensures that it is officially listed as one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Vic Falls – as it’s known locally – is also a great centre for adrenaline junkies, with adventure activities ranging from the intimidating bungee jump from the bridge facing the mighty waterfall to white-water rafting in the torrential Zambezi Gorge below the falls or canoeing on the more placid hippo-infested waters above it.

As singularly impressive as Vic Falls in its own right is the ruined stone city of Great Zimbabwe, a medieval trade centre that qualifies as the most haunting African historical site south of Ethiopia.

Zimbabwe is no slouch when it comes to game viewing, either. My favourite among its national parks, Hwange, a short drive south of Vic Falls, is justifiably renowned for its immense concentrations of elephants, but it is also good for lion, giraffe, buffalo and other safari favourites, along with the rather localised sable antelope. Nearby Matobo National Park, the burial place of Cecil John Rhodes, is famed for its balancing rocks, and is one of many sites in Zimbabwe rich in prehistoric rock art. Matobo is also the most reliable park in Zimbabwe for rhino sightings, though to be reasonably sure of seeing these impressive creatures, you should arrange to track them on foot with an armed ranger.

Other great safari destinations in Zimbabwe include Mana Pools NP (on the lower Zambezi), Matusadona NP (on Lake Kariba) and Gonarezhou NP (which lies in the far south of the country and forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park). An important aspect of all three of these parks is they are geared largely towards guided walking safaris, which is a far more exciting way to see wildlife than viewing it from a vehicle, though maybe not suited to nervous first-time safari-goers.

If you’re into off-the-beaten-track hiking, head to the Eastern Highlands, a region that offers some wonderfully scenic (and very affordable) walking possibilities. These range from serious overnight hikes in the Chimanimani Range to some wonderful forest walks in Vumba and Chelinda, both of which offer superb bird watching.

A feature of Zimbabwe at present is the relatively low tourist volumes associated with the country’s negative international profile during and after the Mugabe regime. Despite this, Zimbabwe is very safe to visit, its beleaguered tourist industry deserves support, and it offers a refreshingly untrammelled experience away from the few main tourist centres.

Expert
Lizzie Williams   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

5 people found this review helpful.

A Good Destination To Combine Game-Viewing, Fun Activities and Natural Attractions
Overall rating
4/5

Zimbabwe has a generous sample of the Africa many people hope to see – untamed savannah, mighty rivers, thundering waterfalls, and a good variety of African animals. The Victoria Falls are the principal attraction, where the Zambezi spills dramatically into the Bakota Gorge, and Hwange, Mana Pools and Gonarezhou are just some of the immensely rewarding parks in which to see big game. I particularly love the distinctively Zimbabwean landscapes: balancing boulders, giant baobab trees and ubiquitous beehive hut settlements scattered across the veld.

Probably my favourite highlight of Zimbabwe is the wonderful people, and every time I visit I’m always struck by their warmth and friendliness. Service is impeccable with well-trained staff, and Zimbabwe is renowned for its professional safari guides who have gone a long way to lifting guiding standards across Africa.

The diverse habitats are home to impressively large populations of elephant and buffalo and usually-rare species like roan antelope and wild dog. Safari options are not confined to the back of a vehicle: there is also some excellent walking and canoeing. The endless list of activities based around Victoria Falls includes bungee-jumping and white-water rafting, while excursions like scenic flights and river cruises offer the chance to see wildlife along the banks of the life-giving Zambezi.

Despite its well-publicised political and economic problems, Zimbabwe’s tourist industry has rarely been affected and it’s always maintained its strong reputation as an attractive safari destination. It has a good choice of hotels, lodges and camps, and Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority has been proactive about protecting its wild spaces, assisted in some parks by NGOs such as the Frankfurt Zoological Society and Peace Parks. Added advantages for visitors include an international airport opening at Victoria Falls and being able to pay for almost everything in US dollars. Strategically, too, a big advantage is the proximity of Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park in the west to attractions in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

Expert
Emma Gregg   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Emma is an award-winning travel writer for Rough Guides, National Geographic Traveller, Travel Africa magazine and The Independent.

5 people found this review helpful.

Classic Safari Zone on the Road to Recovery
Overall rating
5/5

Zimbabwe’s once-thriving safari industry crashed during the 2000s, and while it was initially slow to recover, the pace has picked up in recent years. Even so, while safari companies, lodge owners and tourism officials have done their best to reassure would-be visitors that Zimbabwe’s parks are as safe and beautiful as ever, many holidaymakers still avoid the country altogether in favour of Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania.

Inevitably, the tourism downturn has affected levels of investment, with knock-on effects on facilities, environmental conservation and wildlife welfare, but the cost of safaris hasn’t really dropped to match. Nonetheless, on my recent visits, I was greeted extremely warmly, and found that some parts of Zimbabwe remain upbeat. The busy springboard town of Victoria Falls still offers some great places to stay and things to do, with pristine bush and riverscapes within easy reach. Here, the crowd-free conditions are a bonus, and I’ve never felt unsafe.

Despite various setbacks, wildlife continues to thrive in Zimbabwe’s flagship parks, Mana Pools and Hwange, and the stunning scenery is, of course, as beguiling as ever. But to me Zimbabwe’s greatest strength is the quality of its guides and the authenticity of the safari experience at its small, independent camps and lodges. It remains an excellent place for traditional Big Five safaris of the type where your tent really is a tent (not a hotel room pretending to be a tent), bushwalks figure large on the agenda, and you feel totally immersed in the bush.

Expert
Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.

3 people found this review helpful.

Zimbabwe: A Country on the Cusp…
Overall rating
5/5

If I had only one chance to go back to Africa and could choose only one country, it would be Zimbabwe. I first visited, going to Victoria Falls, at the height of the country’s toughest times back in 2004, when a trillion-dollar note wouldn’t buy a loaf of bread. I admit the desperate state the country was in back then put me off returning. But I’m so glad I did.

Over subsequent years, I’ve seen a very different country to the one so often portrayed in the press. Yes, it still has tough times, and its politics and economy are still troubled, even without Robert Mugabe. But it is one of the safest places I’ve been to, it’s scenically beautiful with fabulous wildlife, its guides are the best on the continent, the lodges and camps are second to none and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a friendlier nation anywhere. Right now, Zimbabwe needs tourists to return more than ever and if you’ve ever thought you’d like to go but have been put off by all the negativity, pack an open mind and a smile and discover all that this diverse country has to offer.

For safaris, Hwange, with its huge herds of elephants, and Mana Pools on the mighty Zambezi are the first destinations that spring to mind. Mana, in particular, offers a rare freedom in the bush – you can even walk there without a guide, although unless you’re really bush-savvy, I wouldn’t recommend it. But it’s a magical park with huge albida and mahogany trees panning out from the river and wild residents that include several packs of wild dogs/painted wolves. Other parks meriting exploration include Zambezi National Park to the west, Matusadona on the shores of Lake Kariba, and the gorgeous Gonarezhou with the dramatic Chilojo Cliffs that seem to glow gold at sunset. What you’ll discover aside from the varied wildlife is that so many lodges, local operators and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here are deeply involved in conservation and community projects, perhaps filling the void from Mugabe’s legacy – and that’s why visiting is so important.

Away from the typical safari destinations, try hiking in the Eastern Highlands or climbing Mt Nyangani, Zimbabwe’s highest mountain, but beware – local folklore suggests it’s haunted and people have disappeared. The Great Zimbabwe ruins, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is an ancient city dating back to the 11th century, once home to around 20,000 people. And there are also the incredible balancing rock boulders of Matobo Hills. Personally, I love being by the Zambezi, whether it’s getting drenched at Victoria Falls (yet again – I’ve been several times now and still love it), tracking painted wolves at Mana Pools or being mesmerized by the surreal sunrises bouncing off Lake Kariba.

To make the most of Zimbabwe, choose a specialist operator who really knows the country. If you’re self-driving, keep an eye on the latest news.

Expert
Brian Jackman   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Brian is an award winning travel writer, author of safari books and regular contributor to magazines such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa.

3 people found this review helpful.

Paradise in Crisis
Overall rating
4/5

Zimbabwe really deserves top billing as a safari destination. In landscape terms it contains some of Africa’s greatest scenic splendours, from the awesome spectacle of the Victoria Falls to the bare granite domes of the Matobo Hills with their Verreaux’s eagles and prehistoric rock-art caves. And its wildlife parks are second to none. I’m thinking of Mana Pools on the mighty Zambezi, and the classic elephant country of Hwange, whose camps and lodges are as good as you’ll find anywhere. And Zim’s professional safari guides are still the best. But sadly, these are not normal times. The unrest caused by President Mugabe’s years of misrule caused untold damage to the country’s tourist image and infrastructure, and as a result Zimbabwe has simply fallen off the tourist map as far as many tour operators are concerned. Yet most recent visitors have had a good time, encountered no problems and been warmly welcomed. In the end, the decision to go or not to go is a personal choice guided perhaps by the latest Foreign Office travel advice.

Expert
Anthony Ham   –  
Australia AU
Visited: August–September

Anthony is a photographer and writer for travel magazines and Lonely Planet, including the guides to Kenya and Botswana & Namibia.

2 people found this review helpful.

Zimbabwe: The Next Big Thing in Safaris
Overall rating
4/5

Forget everything negative you’ve heard about Zimbabwe. This is one of my favorite safari destinations. Hwange, in the country’s east, belongs among the elite of African national parks. I especially love it for its elephant and lion sightings. Mana Pools National Park in the north is also a favorite, not least because it’s one of few parks in Africa where you can walk in wildlife areas without a guide. Add the history of Great Zimbabwe, the splendor of Victoria Falls and the dramatic cliffs of Gonarezhou, and there’s plenty to keep you occupied for weeks. But one of the most underrated aspects of visiting Zimbabwe is its people. Obscured for too long by political instability and the shadow of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s people could just be its greatest asset. More than anywhere else in Africa, I have found Zimbabweans to be highly educated, professional in their work, and unfailingly warm in their welcome. This is especially true of those working in the safari industry. Even if your time is limited, Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls are world-class destinations that are worth making room in your itinerary for.

Expert
Harriet Nimmo   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Harriet is a zoologist with more than 20 years’ experience. She has the privilege of working with the world’s top wildlife photographers and photo-guides.

2 people found this review helpful.

Beautiful Country, Beautiful People
Overall rating
4/5

Ignore all the negative connotations this country may have: Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful African countries with some of the friendliest people. The previous political troubles have not impacted on the safari destinations – other than the staff are even more delighted to see you. And what better time to go than now?

There are two key safari destinations – Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks. Hwange is Zimbabwe’s largest national park and with a bit of luck you can see most big safari animals, including the rare sable antelope (though the few remaining rhino are very difficult to find). There are a LOT of elephants and I’ve always been lucky with wild dogs. Mana Pools is one of Africa’s most beautiful parks, with its riverine glades of trees, and the joy here is that you can walk or take a canoe trip on the Zambezi. Zimbabwe’s guides have the reputation for being among the best in Africa.

Other travel highlights in Zimbabwe include the Matobo National Park, with its dramatic rocky landscapes, rock art and, thankfully, still good populations of rhino. And of course, no trip to Zimbabwe is complete without visiting the iconic Victoria Falls. I prefer visiting the falls from the Zimbabwe side rather than the Zambian side, as the town is more attractive and there is more to see and do.

Zimbabwe is a birder’s delight with more than 700 species; many of the specials are found in the Eastern Highlands. Wish-list ticks include the African pitta, racket-tailed roller, Ayres’s hawk eagle and pennant-winged nightjar.

The best time for wildlife viewing is the dry winter months (May-October), when the game clusters around waterholes. However, the wet season can be great value and is the best time for migratory birds.

Expert
Heather Richardson   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Heather is a British travel / conservation journalist, and has written for publications and broadcasters such as the BBC, Departures, the Telegraph and the Sunday Times.

The Insider Favourite
Overall rating
4/5

If ever there was an underappreciated destination, it’s Zimbabwe – something every safari expert will tell you.

The country continues to experience tough times. The 2018 election promised a new chapter – but resulted in a slide backwards. The economy is in the bin and the country needs tourism.

Despite its problems, Zimbabwe is a safe country for tourists and there’s an incredible safari waiting for those open-minded enough to visit. Zimbabwean guides are, I think, the best in Africa; the country also has one of the continent’s best standards of education, which is immediately apparent. High-end camps are far better value than in neighbouring Botswana and South Africa. Make sure you pay for as much as possible in advance and note that there’s little cash access on the ground.

These days, most safaris start in Victoria Falls, with its new international airport (Kenya Airways flies between Cape Town and Nairobi with a stop in Vic Falls, which is convenient for those on a multi-destination trip). There’s so much to do here: bungee jumping, white-water rafting, sundowner cruises and walking safaris, to name a few.

From there, Hwange National Park is a great option, as you can drive there within three hours. There you’ll find lions, leopards, cheetahs and humongous herds of elephants, especially during the dry months of September and October. You can self-drive and camp or stay in one of the long-established high-end camps. I’ve visited Hwange three times to date and often recommend it to friends travelling to southern Africa for the first time.

Further afield, Mana Pools, on the banks of the Zambezi, still feels really wild – and it’s a great place for walking safaris (you can even walk unguided). Lake Kariba is a holiday favourite of many Zimbabweans; stay on a houseboat or at a lakeside lodge. Then there are lesser-visited places, such as Matusadona National Park (managed by the non-profit African Parks) and Gonarezhou National Park in the south – ones for those who like to veer off the beaten track.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.2/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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